Yangtse River  Guide

Yangtze River Culture


As a mother land of some South China’s most brilliant civilization, the Yangtze basin is pivotal to the cultural origins of the nation: a real cradle of Chinese culture, rich in scenery and folk customs’ diversity. Yangtze River, with fantastic sceneries and a long history, has nurtured brilliant civilization in south China. This river, together with Yellow River - the mother river in north China - forms importation influence on Chinese culture. Further reading on this part before a Yangtze River cruise enables tourists to be informed with useful Yangtze culture knowledge, including the culture evolution, crafts and folk customs along the Yangtze, as well as celebrities and legends related to the river.


Folk and modern customs along the Yangtze River 
Crossing 11 Provinces from West to East, the mightiest river of China embraces various cultures and folk customs ranking as the most diverse in the world. The ethnic minorities living along the river are all endowed with amazing culture and folkways attracting travelers for their uniqueness. From the Yangtze’s source in the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau to the sprawling city of Shanghai different cultures can be found, among which the Tibetan, Naxi (Yunnan), Tujia, Bashu (Sichuan), Jingchu (Hubei, Hunan), Huxiang, Haipai, Liangzhu and Wuyue (Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai).

The Three Gorges area is maybe where most of the Yangtze Cultures have developed for it has been a rich and fertile land since ancient times. As the largest ethnic minority of China located around the Yangtze River banks, the Tujia Ethnic Minority is reputed for being one of the most interesting culture that developed around the basin. Famous for its soft production of brocades – among the most famous one in southwestern China – the Tujia has interesting life, marriage and funerals customs. Food specialties, life habits, local languages and dialects, the cultural heritage on the banks of the Yangtze River is one of the richest in the world that everyone should appreciate when taking a cruise or just travelling in these regions. Seeing the hanging coffins, the Ghost City of Fengdu, the Three Gorges Dam and huge bridges, the ancient towns and canals of the River Delta in Hangzhou or Suzhou...the Yangtze River cultural relics are of a huge amount for the pleasure of those looking for new discoveries.


Wildlife along the Chang jiang 
Rich natural sites, the Yangtze River banks and waters are no more than a rich place where develop some of the world’s most precious ecosystems. Endemic species barely seen anywhere else in the world live or have lived in this fertile river. The Chinese Alligator, Finless Porpoise and Chinese Paddlefish still alive today in the water are some of the world’s endangered species that have to be protected. The extensive use of the river for production of electricity, shipping and tourism are some of the reasons for this red alarm about the Yangtze’s biodiversity. This cradle of Chinese culture is a worldwide scientists and biologists’ center of interest, looking for some solutions to counter-act the process in the next centuries.


Yangtze River fertile basin 
Area recognized as the first one where rice production was held, the Yangtze River banks are some of the most fertile of China. The discovery 8,000 years ago of some rice plantation sites in Hunan (Pengtoushan Site, Li County) and Zhejiang Provinces (Hemudu Site, Yuyao City) have given the proof of Chinese people early mastering in rice production techniques in a land where people started to concentrate densely.

Land first dedicated to agriculture, the Yangtze River banks were also where fishing was a way to earn a living. Being the main source of income for thousand years, fishing along the Yangtze was a daily habit that provided locals with a huge diversity of fish. Still seen today on some reaches of the river despite the increasing pollution of the waters, the cast technique using a large with stone anchors is a highlight. The Yangtze River, considered as the “land of fish and rice” is definitely the mother-land and granary of China!


Protected areas along the river 
Important resource of China, the Yangtze is at the beginning nothing more than a long and strong river making its way from western to eastern China, through some of the most beautiful natural sceneries ever seen in the world. In order to preserve this unique biodiversity and landscape, two different parts of the river have been protected by local government and the UNESCO 1990s. The Sanjiangyuan ("Three Rivers' Sources") National Nature Reserve (SNNR) of Qinghai Province is a China national protected area for it’s uniqueness in the world. Indeed the reserve is where locate the headwaters of the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang), the Yellow River and the Mekong River (Lancang Jiang): a pivotal zone to protect from any human use. A bit southward but still located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze, is the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan. A site where locates namely one of China’s most impressive gorges: the Tiger Leaping Gorge.


Yangtze River Crafts 
Mightiest river of China where numerous cultures developed in harmony with nature, the Yangtze River is where some of China’s most interesting art crafts and hand-made treasures can be found. Being a basin rich in copper resources, the Yangtze River is where some of the most remarkable bronze works can be found, among which the  one found in the Shu Culture Sanxingdui (Three-Stars Piles) excavation site.

The other famous crafts that developed along the Yangtze River basin were the carving works, this especially in the Three Gorges area. Used for thousand years as furniture, buildings and daily use tools depicting creatures or auspicious items, this traditional hand-made craft is one of the particularities that should be taken as souvenirs.

The painted pottery, among which the one coming from Yichang city is the most famous one throughout China is also a particularity of the Yangtze River craft culture. Highly valued pottery using the local yellow mud as a base material, the final products are often offered to foreign celebrities visiting China.

Finally, a noticeable art craft of the river are the embroideries and precious brocades produced by women for thousand of years. Usually considered as a necessary part of a young girl’s education in the ethnic minorities that developed in the area, the hand-made embroideries are the product of virtuous women living along the Chang jiang’s flow rhythm.

Bonsai, bamboo-and-straw-woven products, shipbuilding, woodprint… the list of the art crafts that can be found along the banks of this longest river of China is without end like the richness of its visit!


Yangtze Culture Evolution

Yangtze River is endowed with abundant cultural relics. The Wushan Man discovered in Wushan County in Chongqing City is the earliest Homo erectus yet found in China, who lived about two million years ago, about 300,000 years earlier than Yuanmou Man discovered in Yunnan. This has proved that human activities was already started at that early time in the Three Gorges Area of the river and has triggered the debate of the origin of Chinese people. The following Yuanmou Man, Tangshan Ape Man, Yunxian Man, Changyang Man and Ziyang Man successively left footprints by the river, forming a complete human evolution lineage.

Yangtze water fertilized the land on the two banks. Rice thrives in the Yangtze River Basin, in which 95% of the ancient rice cultivation sites are located. The discovery of the Pengtoushan Site in Li County of Hunan Province and the Hemudu Site in Yuyao City in Zhejiang Province proves that Chinese ancestors was the first mastering the rice planting techniques 8,000 years ago.
During the long history of ancient China, this river had nurtured the brilliant Liangzhu Culture in Zhejiang area, Bashu Culture in Sichuan, Jingchu Culture in Hubei and Hunan, and Wuyue Culture in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai. The culture center was gradually transferred to the south from the Yellow River area in north China because of the political crises and wars in history. A lot of people moved to the south Yangtze area, bringing a boom in the economy and culture development. In modern times, Yangtze culture appeared in new look characterized by the two main genres – Huxiang Culture of Hunan and Haipai Culture of Shanghai. Huxiang Culture, rooted in the traditional Chinese agriculture, emphasizes practicalness, braveness and diligence. Haipai Culture, influenced much by the western industry, commerce and culture, is a representative of Chinese modern urban civilization.


Legends of Yangtze River
Like in many ancient places in China or in the world, the Yangtze River basin is an area where lots of legends and myths developed, kept by families and folk cultures from generation to generation. Often fascinating, the stories give to the river a more lively and appealing perspective.

One amazing scenery to watch when traveling around this mighty river or cruising it are the way people live on the banks of the river. Important part of the way people earned their money, the “boat tracker” activity is still something that can be seen along some parts of the Yangtze. Originally spread everywhere, these men waiting for boats to rescue are located in some reaches of the Yangtze, making for centuries their life off this hard work consisting in towing boats off sandbars.


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